Leon Jaroff, a science writer and editor who persuaded Time Inc. to start Discover magazine in 1980, became its top editor and for many years wrote the popular Skeptical Eye column challenging pseudosciences, died Saturday at his home in East Hampton, N.Y. He was 85.
As early as 1971, Mr. Jaroff noticed that newsstand sales of Time magazine jumped almost every time a science article was on the cover, and he began presenting the numbers to corporate executives. “He managed to persuade the heavyweights,” Frederic Golden, a former science writer and editor at Time and Discover, said. “Selling science to people who graduated to be managers was very difficult.”
His doubts about psychology and psychiatry were in keeping with the wariness he brought to the Skeptical Eye columns he wrote for Discover and later Time. Creationism, astrology, extrasensory perception, U.F.O.’s and alternative medicine were among his targets. But he would also challenge doubters of legitimate advances in health care, like vaccinations.
“In reality, the antivaccine activists demonstrate both medical illiteracy and an appalling ignorance of history,” he wrote in a column in 2000. “What happened to the quarantine notices that were once routinely posted on houses afflicted by measles, mumps or whooping cough? Or the long rows of iron lungs filled with polio victims unable to breathe on their own? Why do the words diphtheria and scarlet fever draw only blank stares from today’s kids? Because of vaccines, that’s why.”
Two losses of great critical thinkers in one day is very sad but we must learn from them and keep on questioning.
Steven Novella writes In Memory of…
Tip: Tim Farley